It started innocuously enough, with a small, blurry dot in her field of vision. But Tara Revyn’s doctor told her this was caused by a hemorrhage in her eye — a potential sign of serious brain damage. Tests were done and no damage was found, but in February of 2003, further examinations showed something just as serious: myelodysplastic syndrome, a precursor to leukemia.
Myelodysplastic syndrome is a cancer of the bone marrow, the site of the body’s blood manufacturing. The disease, like most others affecting bone marrow, damages the marrow in such a way that it cannot produce the white blood cells vital to a person’s immune system, making the patient vulnerable to infections and other diseases.
Without a bone marrow transplant, Revyan is likely to die.
“I was in disbelief,” Revyan, a 24-year-old Korean American with a 7-year-old child, said of receiving the diagnosis. “I had just started my career and received my degree, and that’s the last thing you expect to happen.”
Revyan has undergone a number of experimental treatments in the hopes that one might cure her. They did not, and now Revyan is searching for a bone marrow transplant from a compatible donor to restore her immune system and save her life.
The transplant would replace her defective marrow with the healthy donor’s. Then, if the procedure goes well, Revyan’s body will again be able to produce white blood cells in large numbers.
But Revyan must compete with thousands looking for a match — each year, 35,000 people are diagnosed with diseases that could be treated with bone marrow transplants —and her search is further complicated by the fact that she is Korean. Asians make up just 8 percent of the 5 million people registered in the National Bone Marrow Donor Program database.
Those of the same race are more alike genetically, which means their bone marrow is more likely to be compatible. The best hope for a match outside of a person’s family, therefore, comes from other members of this same race. Revyan is adopted and cannot test her family for a match. This means that Revyan’s—and all minorities’—chances of finding a match are severely lowered.
Not only is the database lacking Asians, but all minorities, from blacks to Native Americans to Latinos are underrepresented, said Tereeta Gibson, who supervises bone marrow drives for the NBMDP.
To give hope and the potential of a cure to people like Revyan, a minority bone marrow drive will take place today at the University.
The drive will be held today from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Anderson room of the Michigan Union and in room 3817 of the Medical Science II building of the Medical School. The drive is open to all races but focused on registering minorities in the database.
Gibson stressed that the drive merely registers a participant in the NBMDP database — no transplants are actually done.
The entire process takes at most 15 minutes, Gibson said. “You fill out a consent form and a survey on your medical history, then we prick your finger and put a blood sample on a piece of paper, then you’re done.”
The participant is then registered in the NBMDP database and can be called upon at any time should a compatible recipient be found. If a match is found, he has the option of undergoing the transplant procedure — which is longer and more involved than the registration process — or declining.
The drive is sponsored by the United Asian American Medical Student Association, Lambda Phi Epsilon, Alpha Kappa Delta Phi and the Chinese Students Association.
The ultimate goal of these minority bone marrow drives is to give minorities as good of a chance at finding a donor as white, Gibson said.
And for Revyan, the importance of finding a donor soon cannot be overestimated.
“It’s basically the only cure,” she said. “I don’t have any other options.”
Saving a life
Minority Bone Marrow Drive
-The bone marrow drive will be held in two locations today from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
– Locations are the Anderson room of the Michigan Union and room 3817 of the Medical Science II building.
– Participants will be registered for bone marrow type and are not required to commit to a transplant.